By Shlomi Yass
All around the world, terrorist organizations and networks operate on behalf of various ideologies, beginning with the leftist, Marxist-Leninist terrorist organizations such as the Red Brigade in Italy or FARC in Colombia, through secular organizations such as the People’s Front for the Liberation for Palestine- General Command, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, and the Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine, all the way to Islamic fundamentalist organizations such as Jaish al-Islam in Gaza, Al-Jama’ah Al- Islamiya in Indonesia and others.
The rise of global terror driven by religious-fundamentalist ideology, Islamic in nature, indicates the importance of the Salafist-jihadist doctrine within which these organizations and networks operate and from which their ideologies are drawn. Jaish al-Islam and the umbrella framework from which it derives its ideology – The Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, among many others – represent only a fraction of a list of organizations and networks operating in recent years in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Furthermore, such organizations and networks operate within, and can be identified by, the guidelines of global Salafist-jihadist ideology.
Religious-fundamentalist terror in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula manifests itself in a number of ways: through an increase over the years in the number of organizations and networks operating in these regions, the presence of foreign activists from all around the world and the rising number of terror attacks combined with the increasing audacity in choice of targets.
Israel’s challenge, like that of Egypt and Hamas, is the fact that no single, central organizational framework exists which can be addressed. While increasing cooperation among the parties concerned, even if indirectly, could contribute toward diminishing the influence of these organizations and networks on the one hand, it could strengthen Hamas on the other.
Salafism Salafists are Sunnis who follow a literal reading of the Koran in an attempt to follow the path of the first three generations of Islam, also known as the Righteous Fathers. The meaning of the world “Salaf” is “predecessor” or “ancestor” – the first generation.
Salafists wish to reshape modern-day Islam to the form that most closely resembles that of Muhammad’s era. The central principle of Salafism is that Islam was perfect in its early days, but throughout the centuries, new and undesirable innovations have seeped in due to external influences.
As a concept, Salafism grew out of Islam’s modern movements of the 18th century. Today, Salafism is characterized primarily by puritanical conservatism – refrain from violence and political involvement – and an emphasis on coming closer to religion.
This is to be accomplished through missionary work (words and actions) for Islam, broadly recognized as “Dawa.”
Jihadism Literally, “jihad” is an effort to achieve something. In a religious context, jihad is an individual obligation in defense, and a general obligation in offense. In the time of the prophet Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three major phases with respect to jihad as a holy war for Allah.
In the first stage, between the years 610-622 CE, Allah commands the believers to limit their reactions and exercise restraint due to their being weak and few in number. Hence the declaration that there is no coercion in Islam, as jihad in this first stage was designed specifically for internal struggles and not for war.
During the second stage, between the years 623-626 CE, Allah permits the believers to fight. Yet, this is still limited to wars of defence only.
In the third stage, spanning the years 626-632 CE, Allah commands the believers to fight the infidels, including Jews and Christians, with every means at their disposal; a war of annihilation.
Salafist jihadism is the conviction that Islam’s glory days must be brought back via the use of violence.
This radical faction calls for a return to the roots of Islam through a violent struggle; using jihad against Israel, the West and against Islamic regimes failing to apply Shari’a law.
It is worth noting that a distinction exists between organizations and networks acting as national liberation movements focusing on Palestine (e.g. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees), and the Salafist-jihadist organizations and networks operating as part of the global jihad who are attempting to constitute themselves into a comprehensive Muslim liberation organization.
The traditional Salafists came to the Gaza Strip for the first time in the 1970s, although there is little mention of the movement from that time. Reports of a Salafist-jihadist presence in the Gaza Strip emerged in December 2002, when former prime minister Ariel Sharon held al- Qaida as the principal suspect for the attack on the Paradise Hotel and for the attempt to shoot down an Israeli Arkia airplane during take-off from the airport in Mombasa, Kenya.
In Salafist-jihadist terms, Hamas is far from being the most hawkish movement in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Eleven years later, groups such Al-Tawhid wal Jihad, Jaish al-Islam, Jund Ansar Allah, and Ansar Bait al-Muqaddas constitute only a fraction of a long list of organizations and networks more radical and violent than Hamas.
In recent years, the number of Salafist-jihadist organizations and networks operating in the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula has grown, and this trend can be expected to continue.
This growth is significant in a number of ways: the intensification in the number of such organizations and networks, the presence of foreign activists from around the world and the increase in terrorist attacks.
Accordingly, the challenge for Israel with regard to the Israel-Egypt- Hamas triangle and the uncontrollable number and diversity of organizations and networks will be to identify and strengthen a single, central organizational entity.
This would on the one hand diminish Salafist-jihadist influence, yet at the same time unreasonably strengthen Hamas at the expense of other organizations and networks.
Israel for its part would have to consider choosing between bad and worse.
Shlomi Yass has a master’s degree in government-counter-terrorism and homeland security, and is an intern at the Military and Strategic Affairs Program, INSS.